Prof. James Ceaser is correct to see the Barack Obama presidency as a spiritual movement.
From the onset of the Obama administration I have argued on this blog that the American people elected Barack Obama in order to atone for sins.
Faced in 2008 with a financial crisis they did not understand, Americans bought a theory that they could grasp, one that had been peddled relentlessly in the media and the schools. They decided that when the credit markets had frozen and the financial system was about to implode it meant that God was punishing America for its sins. Those sins were racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia and carbon emissions.
So, Americans went looking for a Savior. They found on in Barack Obama. It was easier to atone for their sins by electing Obama than actually working their way out of the crisis.
Ceaser renders vividly the idea that the Obama presidency was a spiritual revival:
In the promiscuous blending of politics and culture that characterizes our age, the launch of the Obama campaign in 2007 marked the beginning of a politico-spiritual movement that promised a new beginning and a transformation of the nation. It was to be the “moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal . . . [when we] restored our image as the last, best hope on Earth.” Faith in the leader knew no bounds. Obamaism spilled out from the college campuses and tony enclaves of Manhattan and San Francisco into the mass public to become first an American and then a worldwide phenomenon. The legion of believers included not only the youth in their T-shirts emblazoned with the silk-screen Obama image, but also many of the nation’s most experienced political observers.
By 2013, Ceaser explains, the bloom was not only off of the Obamarose, but people began to grasp that the oft-trumpeted national revival wasn’t going to happen. They began to see that they had elected a transformative incompetent who was going to transform the nation for the worse.
In Ceaser’s words:
No date was fixed for the fulfillment of all the hopes and promises—extensions were continually asked for under the excuse that “change would never be easy”—but enough time had transpired by the end of 2013 for people to sense that the deadline had come and gone.
Taking a page from social psychologist Leon Festinger, Ceaser suggests that people have three ways to deal with the trauma of disappointment.
They can accept that they were duped, deny that their god has failed or deflect the blame.
Obviously, the path to a real recovery begins with an acceptance that one was duped, that one had been the victim of a hoax. This entails feeling ashamed, but it allows one to reconcile with reality, get one’s feet on the ground, gain some traction and move forward.
Ceaser describes accepters:
Accepters are those who conclude that they have succumbed to an error or perhaps been victims of a hoax. In the psychologists’ jargon, they admit to “disconfirmation.” Such recognition may come with powerful feelings of pain—a sense of emptiness, the despair of lost hope, or the embarrassment of having been “had” by a confidence man.
The most prominent accepter is former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs. According to Ceaser:
While he still supports Obama’s political program, Gibbs has recently appeared on television admitting that “2013 was a lost year for the president,” and that the people doubt that Obama’s team is “remotely capable of solving those problems.” He no longer frequents the White House.
On an encouraging note Ceasar suggests that many citizens have finally figured out that their faith and hope was misplaced, and that Obama is not going to deliver on his grandiose promises. Moreover, they have discovered that their president lies all the time.
In Ceaser’s words:
On the level of the mass public, poll data show a stunning loss of confidence in the leader, as more and more erstwhile followers have come to accept that “the change” was pure fiction. While there are signs of a mild and pervasive depression—nearly two-thirds of the public think the nation is on the wrong track—many seem to be adjusting to life after Obamaism.
And then there are the deniers. They continue to believe in their Messiah and refuse to accept that they have been duped. They will find something positive to say about him, no matter what.
Ceaser describes them well:
… some followers have invested so much in their adherence that they cannot eliminate the dissonance by adjusting to reality. They instead “effectively blind themselves to the facts” and band together, fortifying their beliefs by the support of others who agree. “If more and more people can be persuaded that the system of belief is correct, then clearly it must, after all, be correct.” In brief, to quote another expert, they cling to religion.
One suspects that deniers are culture warriors more than economic of political reformers. They seem unworried about the continuing bad economy. They do not seem concerned that America’s role in the world has been diminishing. They are happy that America exited Iraq and will soon be exiting Afghanistan. Since they hate military culture, they are happy to see it diminished.
Deniers want Americans to suffer. They want Americans to be punished for their sins. They do not care about the stock market or the labor market or the Arab Spring.
Moreover, their arena is hearts and minds, not the marketplace or the battlefield. They are fighting racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia and carbon emissions. If the nation is moving toward greater tolerance they are happy. This is what they voted for and they feel good about their votes.
Some of the deniers still to rationalize Obama’s ineptitude. Others simply do not care. They voted for a cultural revolution and they believe that they are watching it unfold.
This brings us to the largest group, the deflectors, those who see that the Obama administration is failing, but who are happy to shift the blame to other people… like the Republican Congress, Rush Limbaugh and Fox News. Deflectors are in closer touch with reality but refuse to hold Obama to account.
Ceaser describes them:
Deflectors admit that the anticipated outcome did not actually occur, which is their concession to reality. But they go on to say that the failure was not the result of a falsehood or a hoax. The prophecy would have been fulfilled but for the existence of a countervailing force that canceled it out. The promise in a sense was kept, only its effects were nullified. Where deflection is ably executed, it can serve to strengthen belief among the faithful, who now conceive of themselves as saints in an implacable struggle with the sinners.
At times, President Obama seems to be leading the charge toward shifting the blame. At other times, he sounds like he is in denial.
Ceaser describes his strategy:
For the most part, however, Obama follows the predicted model of resolving dissonance by being a denier and deflector. He is still asking followers to have patience, going to the extreme of fighting Providence with executive orders… that extend crucial deadlines. Obama appears at his most natural and sincere in the role of deflector-in-chief. All the great things, he suggests, would have happened but for sinister forces working against the change.
By now, many of the accepters and deflectors have shifted their allegiance. They are preparing to open a new front in the culture war, the better to promote American spiritual renewal.
Just as the election of Obama proved that America has overcome its racist past, so now America will have the chance to show how it has overcome sexism by electing Hillary in 2016.
If the tactic worked once, there is no reason why it will not work again.